Tokyo 2020 Olympics – Shooting – Women’s 10m Air Rifle – Medal Ceremony – Asaka Shooting Range, Tokyo, Japan – July 24, 2021. Gold medallist Yang Qian of China celebrates on the podium REUTERS/Ann Wang TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
July 24, 2021
By Ossian Shine
TOKYO (Reuters) – Sport stretched out over Tokyo on Saturday as the Olympic Games finally got underway, but the shadow of COVID-19 and controversy was never far away on the opening day.
China fired an ominous warning as Yang Qian grabbed the Games’ first gold, the morning after Japan’s global superstar tennis player Naomi Osaka had lit the Olympic cauldron to officially open the pandemic-delayed extravaganza.
That moment had capped an opening ceremony shorn of glitz and staged in an eerily silent stadium.
But while the ceremony had been like none before, day one of sport offered a much more familiar feel.
Despite the absence of spectators, the world’s elite athletes ran, rode, fought and swam as a hankered-for business-as-usual vibe began to build.
The sight of an athlete, eyes glistening with joy, was always going to be a welcome one for organisers, and 21-year-old Chinese shooter Yang provided it, holding her nerve in the women’s 10-metre rifle competition to overhaul Anastasiia Galashina.
CRUMPLED UNDER PRESSURE
The Russian crumpled under pressure on her final shot, shooting 8.9, by far her worst shot of the day, and the worst score any of the finalists registered.
“I got too nervous, held on too long,” she said. “My thoughts were not in the right place. I lost concentration. The explanation is very simple.
“I had mixed feelings, joy and bitterness at the same time. But now I am happy. I made a mistake. Nothing major. It will allow me to learn something, it’s a lesson for the future.”
Yang was thrilled, and hinted at her prime motivation: “It’s the 100th birthday of the Chinese Communist Party,” she said. “I’m so happy that this golden medal is a gift to my country. I’m so proud.”
With 11 gold medals up for grabs on day one, organisers will be hoping sport can distract from the stream of embarrassing gaffes and COVID-19 woes which have marked the event, postponed by a year.
But there was no ignoring the global pandemic, as organisers said one more athlete had tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number of disclosed cases to 123.
Organisers are also preparing for a typhoon, having already rescheduled Monday’s rowing competitions to integrate them in the schedule for Saturday and Sunday.
But while the rowers look anxiously to the skies, surfers — who start their competitions on Sunday — should benefit from bigger swells.
At 12-years-old, Syria’s Hend Zaza is the youngest athlete competing in Tokyo but her table tennis tournament was over in a flash as she lost to Austria’s Liu Jia.
The youngest Olympian since an 11-year-old Spanish rower in 1992, Zaza marked her milestone moment by snapping a selfie with Liu, at 39-years-old more than three times her age.
Zaza won the West Asia Olympic qualification tournament in Jordan last year, becoming the first Syrian paddler to qualify for the Olympics.
“Try hard regardless of the difficulties that you’re having and you will reach your hope,” she said.
The 3×3 basketball tournament made its debut and the hosts were well beaten by the Russians in the women’s opener.
“From the streets to the Olympics,” is the motto of the event, pronounced three-ex-three, as basketball seeks to grow its global appeal.
All eyes will be on Tadej Pogacar later as the 22-year-old Slovenian attempts to win the Olympic road race gold less than a week after claiming his second successive Tour de France title.
The 234km road race, including a climb on the iconic Mount Fuji, was set to finish at the Fuji International Speedway circuit.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)